April 9, 2023
Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:1-10
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to the big stories of the Bible, I always have more questions than those writers actually answer. This story today is sure one of them.
The two Marys (Magdalene and another Mary who is not identified) get up before dawn on Sunday morning to visit the tomb. Can you imagine their frame of mind? Surely you can, if you have lost someone dear to you. And having so recently lost their dear friend, Jesus, to the awful and violent death of crucifixion, their grief was fresh and vivid. Imagine where their minds were as they walked to the tomb.
You see, they were there when Jesus was nailed to that cross, even though the men-followers fled to the perimeters or were gone altogether. They were there when his side was pierced, and when he cried out for water. They were there at the foot of the cross for hours until Jesus died and they watched the Romans put the body in the cave and roll the stone over the entrance. I don’t know what they were feeling or expecting as they walked toward the tomb on Sunday morning, but it wasn’t an earthquake or the visit of an angel dressed in snow white, rolling the big stone away in front of their very eyes and then sitting on it!
And then, there were the big burly Roman guards with all of their weapons and authority who were so terrified that they fell on the ground like dead men. What a day it was for the cause of women who are so often dismissed as “the weaker sex.” First they were more faithful supporters around the cross, and now they put the guards to shame. The angel looks at these two women and says what Jesus often said to his followers: “Don’t be afraid!” Too late! And then he adds: “I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.”
That comment of the angel strikes me as quite odd. I think I might respond: “Well, I don’t mean to be a stickler for details, there Mr. Angel, and I don’t want to argue with an angel, but technically, we weren’t looking for Jesus. And to respectfully use your words, he WAS crucified, so we weren’t actually looking for Jesus, but we are looking for his body!”
To which the angel might have responded: “Ah yes! I do get that, and it’s quite a human thing to do in situations like this. It is a human thing to watch a death and then come back looking for the body. How easily you forget that you are entering the God dimension and looking at it from a human perspective is actually quite inadequate.
That’s where you humans seem to go wrong. You have come to believe that when you can no longer see a way out in a crisis, that God is equally shortsighted. You think you are looking for a body, but as you came here this morning, deep down inside you were needing and longing for one more encounter with the living God like you had so often when Jesus was walking with you, healing, teaching, and loving. But I am here to tell you that THIS TOMB is not as final as your Roman occupiers would have you think. This tomb is where Jesus WAS and not where he IS. Come, and see!”
You see, humanly, we are prone to see a period where God has only put a comma. We do that, even when, like the disciples, we have watched God take what looks like a dead end and turn it into a major thoroughfare! We claim the power of God, but we act like God can only see as far as we can see! Our fears say “This is a deadend.” The angel whose appearance was like lightning says: “He is not here! He is risen!” Who can blame us actually? Where else would you look for one who was crucified other than in a tomb? We know about the grief that the Marys knew! We’ve lost loved ones to death. We’ve felt our lives crumble before our very eyes. We’ve watched our children destroy their lives with bad choices. We’ve suffered from betrayal and our own failures. But what is so hard is to retrain our hearts and minds to look in new places for that fresh, healing, restorative, resurrection and to listen to a new voice that says “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19
Of course we grieve! We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t, but when the time is right in the darkness of our grief and loss, we need to open our eyes to those ever new places where God comes afresh to bring life to us. But a necessary part of that transition is to change our focus. We need to look in a new place. “He is not here, he is risen!”
In those situations where we feel God has abandoned us and no longer hears our prayers, there comes a time when we have to hear the angel say: “it is a fine thing that you come looking for where God’s presence WAS. Do come look, but I’m here to tell you that this is an old presence and he is not here but is calling you to a new place. I am here to tell you this morning, that in your darkest moments, God is not blinded
In the last verse of chapter 27, Matthew records that Jesus’ body had been put into the tomb by the Roman soldiers, the stone rolled over the opening, the official seal pressed into it and a guard stationed. How final it all must have felt. How dark and hopeless! The situation was painted as an ENDING. End of Story! How similar that is to the way our times of grief get painted in our minds as the end of the story. We buy the message that there is no sunrise at the end of our night.
And then this 28th Chapter begins with these words: “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was just about to dawn, the women came to the tomb.” I’m guessing that as the women made their way to the tomb, there was the first crack of dawn
on the horizon, but I’m also guessing that they never noticed. We see only what we are ready to see. To you who consider yourselves followers of Jesus’ way, I want to encourage you even in the nighttime: Pay attention to where the light is. You may not see more than the slightest glimmer, but it is there. God’s people are and always have been people of promise. From the very beginning of our history as a people, we have been taught to live in the promise. The promise of deliverance, the promise of a Messiah, the promise of eternal life, and the promise of God’s living presence and call in every dark corner.
May your life be permeated by hope and promise.